The reflex impulse immediately after the final whistle yesterday was to describe this game as a classic.
I was more inclined to think of it as an epic. There may not seem to be much of a distinction between the two but there is a difference. A classic is a type of flawless masterpiece.
This was a masterpiece but some of the colours drained off the canvas, which deprives it of classic status.
Of course the weather was a factor, which was bound to cause some of the colours to fade. There were lulls in the match. I knew there would be goals in when I saw the weather beforehand but the match was governed by such unpredictability that you didn’t know who was going to get them.
There was some real quality football played, which was even more impressive in the conditions, and with the backdrop of the cauldron-type atmosphere. Nobody gave an inch. Neither team took a backward step. Some of the hits were ferocious. Both teams will be happy to have got another shot but, being honest, Kerry will probably have been happier heading down home in the train last night.
This was the game that the championship needed, especially after the last couple of quarter-final blowouts. I don’t think Kerry will have been particularly happy with how they played. Their goals came off two massive Mayo turnovers, and at ideal times to keep them in the game.
The second goal was the first time Aidan O’Shea had left the square, and Kieran Donaghy unattended. It wasn’t O’Shea’s fault because the pass was over-hit and it ended up going over the sideline, which left O’Shea out of position. The subsequent Kerry attack would seem to justify Mayo’s decision to match up O’Shea with Donaghy but I don’t think it was the right move because it took away from Mayo’s attacking threat.
I thought Tom Parsons, Donie Vaughan, even Seamie O’Shea could have done a similar job to Aidan, which would have allowed Mayo to keep one of their better players in a more attacking position. I think Mayo also underestimated how much of an impact Donaghy could have on the ground. As well as scoring a point, he set up Stephen O’Brien’s goal and had a few more assists.
Mayo clearly decided that they were happy as long as Donaghy wasn’t catching the ball in the square. They obviously felt that nobody else could compete with him in the air but O’Shea didn’t really mark Donaghy tightly once the ball wasn’t pumped long. There were numerous occasions when he was ten yards off his opponent and Donaghy made hay with that licence throughout the match.
It’s no surprise to see Mayo play a curveball at this stage. We saw that in last year’s final replay when they changed goalkeepers but I’m sure too that Mayo will have realised after yesterday how much of a threat O’Shea could have been if they had him running at the Kerry defence, who struggled with that part of Mayo’s game all afternoon.
Shane Enright was lucky to last the 70 minutes. He struggled big-time on Andy Moran while Tadgh Morley had one of his poorest games in a Kerry jersey and Mark Griffin was gone by half-time. Kerry could have coughed up another couple of goals and I was disappointed that Kerry didn’t sit another man back.
That decision is even harder to justify when you look at all the goal chances Kerry had coughed up in their three previous games against Clare, Cork and Galway. The game Kerry are playing is too risky but that risk factor is even higher with the huge prairies of space in Croke Park. The full-back line isn’t playing well enough to deal with a rampaging running game but I feel sorry for the boys too because they are being left too exposed.
I couldn’t believe Kerry didn’t learn more from the Galway game. Maybe they are seeing something different in training but Mayo were always going to play with an extra man, which would havefacilitated Kerry’scapacity to also set up with an extradefender. They clearly didn’t want to do it and it nearly cost them.
You have to give huge credit to Mayo. It is phenomenal how they just keep coming back. But I’m not sure if they can keep summoning that same resolve and energy because Saturday will be their ninth match of the championship, two of which also went to extra-time.
They will know too that they had Kerry on the ropes at key stages and couldn’t knock them to the canvass. And yet, Kerry still led in injury-time, and also had a late free to steal it.
It’s unusual to see Kerry take off two players at half-time but I don’t understand either why Colm Boyle keeps getting hauled ashore in the third quarter. There is clearly a reason for that move but I just don’t get it, especially when he is playing well.
It’s unclear as to how fit Donnchadh Walsh might be, because I’m sure he could offer something big to Kerry if he was. Either way, Kerry will need to shake it up for Saturday.
So will Mayo, especially with the Aidan O’Shea situation, but the biggest challenge for both managers might be to see who can recover the most in just six days because that game will have taken a lot of both teams.
Whatever happens, the intrigue is still hanging in the air. And whether it’s a classic, or another epic, getting over the line now is all that will matter to Kerry and Mayo.
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